February 10, 2012 (11:46 AM)

18 min read


Samantha Sotto once said in her book Before Ever After, “Life is a trade – a barter of choices and consequences. Nothing you have is without a price paid by yourself or someone else. Some days you will get more than what you paid for and on others you will pay more than what you should.” In a way, mining gave the people a better life- a faster, easier and more convenient way to do things. Today, most of the things happen in an instant. It is possible because mining has provided the people with more than their needs. Everyone has made the most out of the products given by the said activity, directly or indirectly. However, it appears that something is trying to get back what the people owe. It is true that mining gives the people a lot but the more they receive, the bigger the challenge is for the choices made entail one’s responsibility.

Economically speaking

Minerals play a major role in the pursuit of great innovations. Today’s generation is proof that everyone benefits from it, whether consciously or unconsciously. Copper and aluminium are needed to carry electricity to our homes and offices. It takes products manufactured from minerals to keep iPods, Mp3 players, and cell phones running. As standards of living rise globally, so does the demand for mineral resources, compromising the environment with the depletion of mineral deposits and the exhaustion of mines in areas rich in these resources.
The Philippines, endowed with the bounties of nature, is known to be home to reserves such as chromium, coal, copper, gold, nickel and other minerals. With an estimate of 5 million hectares of mineralized lands, the country is said to have a staggering $840 billion worth of mineral wealth. Ideally, the mining industry could have brought significant contribution to the Philippines especially in its economic development. Looking in the positive aspect, mining could generate direct and indirect employment opportunities for labourers in the local area. Since mining projects are supposed to help the locality for its social development function, investing on infrastructures, roads and other social amenities surrounding the mining sites are sort of a requirement for mining firms. Other than that, the taxes collected from mining are claimed to be of significant value to the total revenues collected by the government.

However, contrary to all the supposed benefits coming from these mining activities, there is little significance as to the changes it has brought to the macro-economy. For one, it has relatively low labor-output ratios. Since the labor compensation from this sector only amounts to 13.3% against 20.7%, it can only give an average labor absorption index of 0.64. In other words, the employment opportunities created out from mining activities are not enough to alleviate the problem in unemployment and poverty as well. Even though the Philippines exports minerals, processing of these deposits do not happen domestically most of the time. That’s why mining-generated employment has reached only an average of 177,000 as of 2009 and less from the previous years. The contribution these mining activities have made to the economic growth of the country has reached only an average of 1.44% since 1975.

Since mining activities desecrate and deplete natural resources affecting other economic sectors such as agriculture, fisheries and tourism, it makes no considerable benefits to the local economy as a whole. Although the revenues collected from the mining firms form part of the national budget, it should be stressed out that the government can only collect 2% of excise taxes from these firms’ total output. Thus, the government revenues coming from mining activities are not significant compared to the income generated by the investors out of our resources.
Since the 2004 nullification of some provisions of the Mining Act of 1995, foreign investors started participating in mining projects in the country. As a result, foreign direct investments increased and the inflows of foreign currency are continually growing making the Philippine peso stronger in the markets. But these events have created negative impacts on other local resource sectors for they decrease the price competitiveness of goods. What’s worse is that when our local currency rises in value, there is a tendency that other nations won’t be able to afford our exported goods. Thus, a decrease in the export of manufactured goods and increase in the import of products happen.

With the extent of the mining activities in the country, the comparative advantages the Philippines might get out of it seem fewer than the opportunity costs incurred. Though it is true that the country has a great potential for economic growth with mineral deposits on hand, the exploitation of these resources may result negatively in the future. If mining will be extensively practiced, then the opportunity costs would increase as well because mining activities hinder the public from using resources that should have been used in agricultural or manufacturing purposes. Though the increase in the number of foreign investments coming from mining can be considered as a comparative advantage in favour of the Philippines, social setbacks can still be a deterring factor.

Since minerals are non-renewable resources, the main problem that the government is facing – aside from ensuring responsible practices in mining – is sustainability. Minding these conditions, the government should consider the creation of activities that promote the development of local industries instead of mainly focusing on resource-exhausting projects that do not only create irreparable damage to the environment but negative social impacts as well. Since we are still a developing country, it will not help the economy if the limited resources we have left will be wasted with the false assumption that the Philippines is growing economically. Instead of exploiting the country’s natural resources, establishing firm laws and policies would be the first step to attain the rapid growth we desire for the Philippines.

Food vs. Mining

The earth has been gifted with enough resources to feed its inhabitants. People are sometimes under the impression that they will never run out of these resources, so they take their abundance for granted. Circumstances define our needs, and sometimes to be able to meet those needs, people find ways to acquire them. These ways, no matter how great they seem to be in people’s minds, are not entirely contributing to the improvement of the earth’s life. The need for food should always be met with support for the life of both animals and people. However, through the constant use and abuse of modern technology, the safety of the future generations has been set aside. The desire to improve the present overshadows the idea that the future’s needs are valuable, too.

The Philippines, as a tropical country, has lands suitable for growing and harvesting different crops. It also has numerous fishing areas that provide a wide range of fish species and marine resources. Tampakan, a municipality found in the province of Southern Cotabato, is a good example of a place gifted with resources like fiber, corn, pineapple, rubber, coffee, rice, bananas, and a lot more. South Cotabato has been labelled as the Food Basket of Mindanao because it is one of the major suppliers of food all over the Philippines. It contains vast agricultural areas and numerous rivers that enable them to grow crops and at the same time provide a stable water supply for drinking and irrigation purposes. The condition of the soil that surrounds the place is also appropriate for raising animals such as ducks, chickens, pigs, and cattle. People dwelling in this place are fortunate enough to have easy access to these resources.
However, upon finding out that Tampakan also contains one of the biggest copper deposits in the Southeast Asia-Western Pacific region, mining companies such as the Sagittarius Mines Inc. (SMI) developed the Tampakan Copper Project located around 65 kilometers north of General Santos City to mine copper and gold. SMI claims that pursuing this project will greatly contribute to the progress of the country’s economy.

Despite the function of copper in the production of things like gadgets and household appliances, some people like Church leaders and local officials combat the idea of the Tampakan Copper Project. A great number of people will suffer if this will be pursued because the methods used in mining involve the use of toxins. Even the option to consider the use of cyanide to extract gold poses a threat to them. Aside from jeopardizing the health and safety of the people living in the villages near the mining site, agricultural lands are also threatened. The food that they take is in danger of being exposed to these toxins. The crops produced will lose their health value, and over time, it may even stop its production because the environment will no longer be fitting for growing them. If this were to happen, the people will lose their means of livelihood which has not only served them, but also most of the people in the Philippines. These toxins will result to air and water pollution—the cause of the deterioration of the quality of different water resources such as fish, which is considered a staple food. In a town in Sultan Kudarat called Lutayan, for instance, people depend on the fish-pen industry found in Lake Buluan. Geologists found out that the mine dumps, residue, or the left-over materials of the mining activity will drain into Lake Buluan. If this happens, the water will become polluted and it will be harmful for the people to eat the fish and other marine resources coming from it.

Aside from the destruction of river systems, the impact of mining can also put the food security of the whole region at risk. An example of this is the fruit plantations found in Tampakan. These plantations will be affected, resulting to a decrease in the production of fruits. There is no guarantee that the once fertile lands will not lose its ability to be productive. People will have no choice but to eat food that might have lost most of its nutritional value. This will not help in the progress of the food industry, especially in a place where most of the residents depend on agriculture as their main source of living.

The harmful effects of mining activities to the food industry outweigh the good it does to the economy of the country. Indeed, mining comes with consequences that are difficult to battle. If we allow ourselves to surrender to the consequences, we would find it hard to undo what has already been done. The effects are long-lasting, and it is up to our efforts to prevent them from happening.
Health than wealth
Mining does not only affect one’s economy, but it also affects one’s health. According to the Institute of Occupational Health and Safety Development (IOSHAD), it is due to the nature of mining that miners are constantly exposed to intense heat due to poor ventilation. Miners usually have fluid and salt deficiencies due to constant sweating, increased stress on the heart, heat stroke, and reduced fertility due to high temperature.

Poor ventilation causes the brain to malfunction and may lead to death especially in underground operations. Vibrations can cause permanent bone damage and vibration syndrome, also known as the “dead finger” syndrome, which can lead to gangrene in the hands and fingers. It can also cause digestive problems due to the constant shaking of internal organs, heart problems and disruption of the nervous system.

Repetitive Stress Injury (RSI) is caused by overloading of a particular muscle group from recurring use or maintenance of constrained posture. Miners who suffer from this usually complain from weakness of affected muscles, heaviness, “pins and needles” sensation, and numbness.

Mines also expose workers to different types of airborne particulates. These make the workers vulnerable to systemic toxic effects due to the absorption of lead, manganese, cadmium, zinc, and other toxic material. Fumes are emitted by the chemicals being used or by the machines that are employed during mining operations. This, coupled with poor ventilation may trigger accidents and may result in the death of the workers.

Hearing impairment and/or disruption of body functions like blood circulation and hormone imbalance are caused by noise or irritating and hazardous sounds, which are inevitable with mining operations. Inaudibility and hearing loss may become immutable. Other non-auditory effects are increased blood pressure and peptic ulcer due to increased gastrointestinal motility.

According to a study conducted by the United Nations: Department of Economic and Social Affairs last August 2007, mining also causes water pollution. This is due to the toxic mine tailings that are usually impounded in tailing dams. When the pressure in the tailing dams builds up, especially during times of heavy rainfall, mining companies drain their tailing dams of waters, or worst, face the risk of having it burst or collapse. In either case, the tailings will have to find their way out thus polluting the water, river, and adjacent lands.

This happened in Mankayan, where the Abra River before the mine was deep and narrow prior to mining operations. It was five meters wide and abundant with fish and surrounded by verdant rice paddies. Now, there is a wide abyss of barren land on either side of the polluted river. Fruit trees and animals have died from the poisoned water.

Mining does not only cause water pollution but also brings water-borne diseases. Liquid waste that is generated after the metals or minerals have been extracted is disposed of in a mining pit. When the pit gets filled up by mine tailings, they become a stagnant pool of water. This pool of water, if not treated properly, might cause water-borne diseases. This might also be the breeding ground of deadly mosquitoes, which cause diseases like dengue or malaria, endangering not just the lives of miners but also other people in the community.

Mining also triggers the spread of skin diseases. After all, most chemicals associated with it are skin hazards. According to a study entitled Selected Health Issues in Mining conducted by R. Larry Grayson and Douglas F. Scott, there are more than 350 skin illnesses associated with poison oak/poison ivy and dust which are said to be the major contributors to skin disorders. It may have been prevented if proper personal protection had been used. One example of skin illness brought by mining is dermatitis. Dermatitis is a skin inflammation usually caused by allergic reaction to specific allergens. Chemicals, allergens in dermatitis, associated with mining are factors of dermatitis.

Aside from the miners, people in the nearby communities are also greatly affected. People living near mining areas may get a disease called Silicosis, which is a form of occupational lung disease that is caused by inhalation of crystalline silica dust.
It is certainly true that mining causes some health-endangering effects basing from the aforementioned facts. Mining therefore is beneficial if we close our eyes from the grave destruction it carries with it.

Environment and Mining

The third Law of Motion states that for every action, there’s always an equal and opposite reaction. In mining, the more minerals are drawn out, the greater the impact to the environment and the society. One question must be figured out, what happens next after the exploitation?
Before a mining project starts, certain requirements must be complied first and certain processes must be undergone. Every action made by mining companies is carefully studied and evaluated. Companies are obliged to secure an Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC), which confirms that a mining company had fulfilled the given requirements of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). ECC is a prerequisite set by the government for projects that are environmentally critical or near critical area. The purpose of these agreements is to mitigate future unwanted effects of mining. Given those protocols, it is unfortunate that the environment still suffers.
Directly speaking, mining is a big contributor to the degeneration of the environment. Deforestation is the first step towards mining. Trees and some other plants are being cleared to make way for the miners to dig up minerals. What used to be vegetation and mountainous portions of land are now flat plains. Residential areas are also affected; decreasing in size. The conversion is extreme. The destruction of the forests may lead to a big impact since the region affected by mining will most likely become a disaster-prone area. It is unsurprising nowadays that many accidents or tragedies occur. If it is traced back, it will all point to one main reason; mining. The pulling out of stones and minerals involve several use of machines and certain chemicals. Because of this, wastes are inevitable. The wastes produced, if not disposed of properly, will greatly affect the land and water property of the environment, thus making it polluted. The chemical wastes, through pipes, are discharged to nearby rivers, lakes and other bodies of water. Having dams to serve as the catch basin may also be risky.

Everyone should be aware that the wastes are toxic. It won’t be surprising to see dead aquatic creatures floating; after all, their habitat will probably be polluted. Pipe leaks make toxins penetrate the soil. If that happens, it will affect the chemical composition of the soil making it unsuitable for planting. Mining obliterates the beauty of the environment. Mining leads to massive exploitation of resources. They say that small-scale mining is more harmful than large-scale but the issue is not that what is more hazardous or not; it is that it contributes to the damage of the environment.

Socially not-so-good

The government will most likely make a profit out of mining. It somehow boosts the economy of the country. Minerals found become determinants of how rich a country is in its natural resources. For some, mining gives them food, shelter and clothing for it is their way of surviving financially. Even though some miners have already met accidents, they would still work back because it is their only way of supporting their families. Through mining projects, different activities are also made possible. They get to sponsor different events, which people are glad to have. However, at some point what consequently happens to the environment will have an effect on the people. Even worse, culture is also deeply affected. Indigenous People are preserving their ancestors’ legacy. Places sacred for IP’s are being transformed into mining pits leaving them no choice but to let go of what it used to be. There is no doubt that the IPs home place is rich in all kinds of minerals. For hundreds of years, they spent their lives protecting and preserving their heritage is very important for a tribe. Most of them were born and laid to rest in their land. Aside from that, the places being grabbed by mining companies are a source of livelihood for the Indigenous People. They cannot fight against it when their right to ancestral domain has been taken away from them. The land taken away from them was their life.

Mining is somewhat an eye-opener to the people. It would be pretty surprising if people were not affected by it. The people may participate in meetings, see the assessments and attend workshops that are given. Mining companies do have corporate social responsibilities to take. Benefactors are mostly people living near the sites. Mining companies give scholarships, livelihood trainings and other projects that are beneficial to the people. Certain mining groups do give back but the real concern is; would it last or just cover the present situation?
Other social impacts might include the change in the behaviour of people living near a mining site. It could also be the change of lifestyle or views regarding certain matters.

Mining causes a great shift, a big adjustment to all that has life. Whether we like it or not, it somehow destroys the balance among living organisms. Biodiversity is at stake. All that lives has to fight for survival. Mining creates a domino effect. What happens to a certain aspect affects the other. The approach of mining to the people may be good, but how would people act on the impacts associated with it? Who’s going to be blamed? After all, for every action, there’s always an equal and opposite reaction.
At the end of the day, the effects of mining are all-encompassing, reaching a point that it affects everyone in one way or another. Compared to the limited resources available, people have unlimited wants and needs that can only be satisfied through these resources that are in danger of depletion if not well taken care of. Human beings are created to guard and protect the world but it is ironic that we are the ones destroying it. The sad truth is that no matter what the effects of mining are, people can still do almost nothing about it, since they are still the beneficiaries of the products coming from it.

by Kathleen Pastrana, Jenny Mae Saldaña, Clemarie Secuya and Almira Jane Villegas

End the silence of the gagged!

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